Marcus Aurelius on Taking it Step by Step
Tuesday Quotes are short explorations of music, life, and the daily endeavor of practicing classical guitar. Find more here. Enjoy!
“Don’t await perfection… but be satisfied with even the smallest step forward, and regard the outcome as a small thing.”
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations (9.2.(4)
Marcus Aurelius was the most powerful man in the world at his time. As emperor of Rome, he wrote Meditations as a diary. He had no idea that we’d still be reading it 2000 years later, or even that anyone but himself would ever see it. He simply needed to remind himself how to live.
Learning guitar is messy. Even with the most perfect plan, we make mistakes and have to clean them up later. As time goes on, we come to deeper understandings, and our previous learnings take on new meanings.
When we see a new house built, we expect that they’ll have to move some dirt around. We expect the mud, debris, and piles of scrap laying around. We’re not surprised or alarmed at the noisy (and seemingly chaotic) mess.
But in our guitar practice, we may secretly believe that everything should stay tidy and neat. And it doesn’t.
The way forward, the surest path to precision and accuracy and beautiful playing, is to jump in and make “even the smallest step forward”. It’s to focus on one little skill or project and give our best attention to it.
Then, as Marcus says, “to regard the outcome as a small thing.” Or in other words, to not worry so much about the end product.
And here’s the irony: When we treat each small step as an end unto itself, we rise to much higher levels than we would otherwise.
If we’re always focused on the future, and dismiss the details and nuances of our current projects, we never get to where we want to go.
Master storyteller Clarissa Pinkola Estes used a phrase that illustrates this: “There’s no milk at the Ram’s house.”
Likewise, country singer Johnny Lee shared the same lesson in his 80’s hit “Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places.”
To draw the parallel, perfectionism and hustling forward won’t give us the musical enjoyment and satisfaction we crave.
Sure, we do best with a plan forward. But in daily guitar practice, we gain the most from relishing each repetition, each little revelation, each small step forward.
Hi, I’m Allen Mathews.
I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
Click here for a sample formula.
As I said before, I think your site is outstanding. I have spent my life teaching adults difficult stuff that they really wanted to learn but didn't have the time to learn at the speed we teach university students. Thus I understand only too well how many hundreds of hours you must have spent perfecting your lessons to make my learning as quick and easy as possible.
~ Mike Barron
Life is good, still enjoying [The Woodshed Program], the progress is life altering, I love it. The physical challenges of my situation have rained havoc for over half my life. In spite of those little pests this 40$ Yamaha classical who needed a new home and your course has given me the "part the clouds for the sun to shine through" outlook. You see, even when I am unable to play I know she patiently waits for my return as I do. A giant void in my journey was filled with light.
~ Ken Montz
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